An essential advertising and marketing book
Mumbai: Political advertising and marketing case studies might be a bit boring for many. But once you pick up ‘Don’t Forget 2004 – The Publicity Secrets of an Impossible ELECTORAL VICTORY‘ by Jayshree M Sundar and start flipping through its pages, you can’t put it down. Written in the style of a diary and a fast-paced personal narrative, it leaves you thirsty for more and barely feels like reading. The pages go by so fast, and before you know it, you’re at the end of the book, much richer in your understanding of what politicians think, how ad agency executives can interact with them and what it takes to craft a winning election strategy and brand campaign.
Jayshree should know. The advertising executive was heading the Delhi office of Leo Burnett India (formerly Chaitra Advertising founded by Walter Saldanha) when she got a call from the office of top Congress leader (I) Salman Khurshid. The voice on the other end informed her that her agency was in the running to help Congress (I) as it sought to make a comeback during the 2004 roundups at the Center. The party had been out of power for more than a decade and a fierce opposition, the BJP, was up to the task, with mainstream media expecting it to win again by a landslide margin.
Some of us may remember Saatchi & Saatchi’s savage ‘Labour is not working’ campaign that brought Margaret Thatcher’s Conservatives to power in 1979. Jayshree and his team took a similar approach, working against impossible deadlines for a client who had no idea what political marketing direction he needed to take. What made it even more difficult was that the BJP looked smug as hell, spending top dollar on ads all over the country talking about how India was shining.
The Congressional (I) mandarins provided no briefs and they had limited budgets. Jayshree and his team needed to come up with the communication that would position Congress (I) correctly while exposing the failings of the outgoing BJP government. Agency leaders had to work and communicate with political heavyweights like Sonia Gandhi, Salman Khurshid, Ambika Soni, Jairam Ramesh, Ahmed Patel, Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi, Motilal Vora – people who demanded a lot of respect and that they had only seen on TV.
Through the book, you learn how she and the agency’s creatives pivoted to getting quick answers through cheap and cheerful primary and secondary research. That and the fact that he approached the mission as a regular brand campaign helped him deliver a pitch presentation that was bought by senior Congressional leaders (I) steeped in the old ways of working. The response to the BJP’s India Shining slogan was “Aam aadmi ko kya mila?” “Congress Ka Haath aam aadmi ke Saath” and was aimed at the heartland of India, versus the former which was more focused on the urban Indian. The black and white visuals featured farmers, unemployed youth, middle class and children, women against the well-dressed urban Indians of the BJP.
The book details how the agency developed the four phases of the campaign, the steps it took to maintain the utmost secrecy during the creation of the campaign, and later when the ads and TVCs were released. in publications and TV channels in different languages across the country.
Jayshree’s effort isn’t just a matter of words; she sprinkled the book with publicity illustrations that ran in the newspapers during the different phases of the campaign.
The communication and marketing strategy of Leo Burnett’s team worked well if you remember. Despite the BJP’s biggest advertising war chest, it and its allies only managed to retain 185 seats (1999 had 298). Congress (I), however, celebrated by winning 145 seats individually (compared to 112 seats in 1999) and 220 seats (compared to 135 in 1999) with its allies. He of course came to power, and the rest, they say, is history.
“Remember 2004” is essential reading for students and practitioners of marketing and advertising as well as those in the political ranks, since there is very little literature available on political advertising. It is rich in detail about the agency’s learnings from working on the Congressional campaign (I). Be sure to take a copy.
(Don’t Forget 2004 – The Publicity Secrets of an Impossible ELECTORAL VICTORY – Jayshree M Sundar, pp284, editor Vitasta Publishing, Rs 495)
You can also buy it on Amazon by clicking on this link: https://www.amazon.in/-/hi/Jayshree-M-Sundar/dp/9390961289